2023 Joburg Open Preview, Picks & Analysis
It has been quite a year for England’s Dan Bradbury.
It all began when he secured a life-changing wire-to-wire victory at the Joburg Open to claim his maiden DP World Tour title in just his third start, and with it a place at The 151st Open Championship.
The 23-year-old Englishman, who only turned professional last summer, came into the week with no status on any tour but made the most of a sponsor’s invite at Houghton Golf Club, clinching a magnificent three-shot win as the 2023 season got off to a memorable start.
Having gone into the final round with a narrow one-stroke lead, Bradbury produced a brilliant display of frontrunning on the Sunday, stretching his lead throughout the day before signing for a closing 67 to finish the tournament on 21 under par.
Bradbury carded five birdies, with his only blemish coming at the final hole, but the highlight of his round was a par-saving chip-in at the sixth which kept the chasing pack at bay at a crucial moment.
Bradbury said: "It won't sink in for a few days, I don't think. It's just a lot of pressure taken off your back - that's nice - but it hasn't sunk in yet and I don't think it will for a while.
"I was a bit worried there on the 15th when Välimäki rolled that monster in but it was kind of the same thing all week, just keep playing my own game and I knew I was playing good enough. It turned out that way in the end.”
Speaking about his mother being there to witness the win, he added: "It made it a little bit more special.”
And twelve months later, the Joburg Open marks the start of the 2023-24 DP World Tour season.
Unsurprisingly, there will be a strong South African presence at Houghton Golf Club, with former winners Thriston Lawrence, Dean Burmester, Branden Grace and Christiaan Bezuidenhout all hoping to put on a show for the home fans.
Lawrence is a two-time winner on the Sunshine Tour, his first victory coming in 2018 at the Big Easy Challenge 15 - Parkview, followed by his second success at the 2019 Vodacom Origins Stellenbosch.
He became the first winner of the DP World Tour era with his success at the 2021 Joburg Open, which launched the 2022 season. The tournament was reduced to 36-holes due to inclement weather and the discovery of a new Covid-19 variant.
He beat Matt Wallace in a play-off to win his second DP World Tour title of the campaign at the European Masters and would later be named the Sir Henry Cotton Rookie of the Year for 2022.
Lawrence then won the South African Open at the start of the 2023 Race to Dubai and earned a fourth win on the DP World Tour at the BMW International Open, making it two consecutive seasons with multiple victories.
The 26-year-old went into the DP World Tour Championship in 25th place in the Race to Dubai and 97th place in the world rankings.
Bezuidenhout started playing golf at the age of four as he grew up next to Delmas Golf Course in his native South Africa.
He excelled as a junior before joining the paid ranks in 2015, the same year that he won the Order of Merit on the Big Easy Tour - the developmental tour for the Sunshine Tour, and was named Sunshine Tour Rookie of the Year in 2017.
Life has been anything but straightforward for Bezuidenhout. In 2019, he opened up in a European Tour Player Blog about a tragic accident as a child, when he almost died at two years of age having mistakenly drank rat poison from a Coca-Cola can, which resulted in a stammer.
At four years of age he was diagnosed with severe anxiety. In 2015, he was banned from golf after a drug test revealed that medication he was using for anxiety and his stammer included a substance which was illegal in the sport. His ban was reduced to nine months following a hearing which determined he had not used the substance for performance-enhancing purposes.
He broke into the Official World Golf Ranking top 50 for the first time in February 2020 after winning the Dimension Data Pro-Am, the co-sanctioned event between the Sunshine Tour and the European Challenge Tour.
Later that season he secured back-to-back DP World Tour wins on home soil at the Alfred Dunhill Championship and the South African Open and went on to finish the year a career-high seventh on the Race to Dubai Rankings Presented by Rolex. He finished top of the Sunshine Tour Order of Merit for 2020-21 after his back-to-back wins in South Africa.
He has been trying to make his name on the PGA Tour and although he has failed to set the world alight he did enough to retain his card for the 2024 season, enjoying seven top-25 finishes, with a best of tied sixth at the Sanderson Farms Championship in October, a performance that was good enough to ensure he will be back for more next year.
He is a hugely impressive golfer and playing on home soil always seems to bring out the best in home so expect him to be there or thereabouts this week.
It was won in 2015 by Andy Sullivan, in 2016 by Haydn Porteous, in 2017 by Darren Fichardt, in 2018 by Shubhankar Sharma, in 2020 by Joachim B Hansen, in 2021 by Thriston Lawrence and last year by Dan Bradbury. There was no tournament in 2019.
Houghton Golf Club is a par 72 measuring 7,153 yards. It is a tree-lined course with lots of water hazards, bunkers and undulating greens. A course where straight hitters will thrive.
It is difficult to see beyond a home-born winner. Christiaan Bezuidenhout is the class act in the field and he simply loves playing on home soil. But keep an eye on defending champion Dan Bradbury, who is flying here from Dubai and has shown some good recent form.
Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Home favourite
Dan Bradbury. Full of confidence
Thriston Lawrence. Has few weaknesses
Five to Follow:
Christiaan Bezuidenhout. Impressive in everything he does
Dan Bradbury. Hits the ball a long way
Thriston Lawrence. A proven winner
Adrian Otaegui. Impressive Spaniard
Adri Arnaus. Wonderful iron player
Five Outsiders to Watch:
Oliver Wilson. Still has his moments
James Hart Du Preez. A South African to watch
Wilco Nienaber. Huge hitter
Thomas Aiken. Looking to arrest decline
Matthew Southgate. Underrated
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